It is hard for a perfectly well man to thoroughly understand a perfectly sick man, and vice versa.
In physical equipment I started superbly—no one more so—more gifted, blessed. I doubt if a heartier, stronger, healthier physique, more balanced upon itself, or more sound, ever lived, from 1835 to ’72; I considered myself invulnerable.
In February ’73 I was stricken down by paralysis. At the eleventh hour, under grave illness, I write and tell you the exact truth—neither better nor worse.
I find myself continuing on here, quite dilapidated and even wreck’d bodily. My paralysis has left me permanently disabled, badly lamed in my left leg, and I have bad spells, occasionally days, of feebleness, distress in head, etc., mostly without serious pain but unable to do anything of any consequence, looking now very old and gray, (but that is nothing new.)
I am probably improving, though very slowly. The probabilities are, (in my opinion anyhow,) that I shall get partially well yet.
Don’t begin to worry or cry about me, for you haven’t lost me yet, and I really don’t think it is likely yet. I think I shall get well yet, but may not. So I thought it best to give a word of caution, if such a thing should be. It will pass over soon, and, if it doesn’t, it will be all right. However it goes, you must try to keep up a good heart—for I do.
I am laid up here with tedious paralysis. The worst trouble is bad spells in the head—very irregular, sometimes an hour or two and then let up, sometimes a whole day, and even two days, with spells pretty severe and tedious. It is so slow, so aggravating, to be disabled, so feeble, cannot walk nor do anything, when one’s mind and will are just as clear as ever.
Ah, the physical shatter and troubled spirit of me—
What a poor miserable critter man is!
A great joker for his little time,
Then nature comes along, buffets him once or twice, gives him two or three knocks—
Nature, the strong, the irresistible, the great bear.
Then what is man? Where is the joker?
For the last ten weeks I have not felt inclined to write. Have suffered in the head, walk hardly any (from the paralysis.)
I don’t seem to be a hospital person; I rebel against the idea of being nursed, cared for. But it’s of no avail—here I am, tied up to the wharf, rotting in the sun. If I did not have naturally good spirits I don’t know what would become of me, run in here like a rat in a cage day in and day out.
Only when imprisoned in this way can anyone realize what happiness resides in the feet and knees—how much depends on your locomotive powers. There was a time—not so long ago, either—when the mere pleasure of locomotion, of having my arms and legs going out of doors, was a joy to me. Now I do not seem to want to go out of doors—that is the worst sign of all.
I need something, oh! so badly, that will stir me up like the sun and the air, of which I am now deprived. I am a prisoner here, almost denied the light of day. I alternate between my bed and chair all day long. Navigation grows increasingly difficult. It now take all my energy merely to get to the chair and back to bed—how sweet the dear bed. When a fellow is physically in the dumps the bed gives him a sort of freedom.
From the medical point of view they tell me I’m getting on all right. Well, I like to be told so, but from the point of view of my own comfort I’m in a pretty boggy condition indeed. But if the doctor feels all right about it, I don’t suppose it matters what I feel—I like to see the doctors comfortable, anyway.
But doctors are not in the main comfortable creatures to have around.
Ah, these doctors! Do they know much? There seems to be in all of us at some hours that suspicion: What do the doctors know? What a mass of solid pretense after all!
The professional air of the doctor grates on me. I only regard professional advice so far—not farther. I decide limits for myself after all.
I have no great faith in or fear of doctors—they don’t seem to do much harm or good. But if the doctors come I shall not only have to fight the disease but fight them, whereas if I am left only I have but the one foe to contend with.
It is said doctors must be specialists nowadays—not doctors of the whole man, but controlling a department only—ear, eye, teeth, brain, what-not—doing that well—oh, grandly, superlatively well, to be sure—but only departmentarily after all. They ignore the rest, as if it wasn’t true that the seat of the trouble in most cases is not at the point of demonstration but way below somewhere.
I don’t think any of the doctors, the best doctors, have arrived at my doctrine yet—that each person has to be treated as a person, not as a member of a class. They doctor a man as a disease, not a man. Oh, I am impatient about it—it riles me. (The worst of sickness is its bad humor, its peevishness, its irritability.)
I love doctors and hate their medicine. It’s all got to go—the drug theory. There’s something wrong about it; it’s a viperous notion. It does not seem to fit with what we know of the human body—with the physical and the mental going together.
Drugs, for me, always defeat the best purposes, always, always. The drugs always excessively affect me—almost violently; my nature seems set against them. It is true that the drugs may effect the end for which they are applied, but I find they effect more, too—so much more, that the balance of good is on the wrong side—that I come out minus.
Still suffering pretty badly—have great distress in my head, and an almost steady pain in left side. But my worst troubles let up on me part of the time—the evenings are my best times—and somehow I still keep up in spirit, and, (the same old story,) expect to get better.
After a week of physical anguish, unrest and pain, and feverish heat, toward the ending day a calm and lull comes on, three hours of peace and soothing rest of brain.
Bodily I am completely disabled, but my mind is just as clear as ever, and has been all the time. Considering the condition of the rest of my body, the immunity enjoyed by my topknot is marvelous—even surprises me. I do not think my mind will ever go; I think I will go before my mind goes. The throne may occasionally reel but it never gives way.
Still write some for publication, often as there comes any lull in physical sufferings—must occupy my mind. I see now much clearer than ever—perhaps these experiences were needed to show—how much my former poems, the bulk of them, are indeed the expression of health and strength, and sanest, joyfulest life.
My health, I am encouraged to think, is perhaps a shade better. I still think I shall get over this, I am certainly encouraged to believe I am on the gain. I have never been entirely prostrated; when I have my bad spells, I wait for them to fade out.
I am feeling well enough to be hopeful—think I shall get well. Whether it is because I am hopeful, or whether the precursor of health yet, after all, (tedious as it is a-coming,) this deponent cannot swear; but we will think it the latter.
But I am not out of the woods yet. Have distress in the head at times, but keep up a good heart—or at any rate try to. With more radical good heart most of our woes would disappear.
|I have not been at all down-hearted. I almost wonder I stand it so well—for I do stand it—quite shattered, but somehow with good spirits.
I find the experiences of invalidism and the loosing of corporeal ties not without their advantages, at last, if one reserve enough physique to, as it were, confront the invalidism.
NEXT: RECOVERING HEALTH